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'Heroic' Doctor Sacrificed His Life To Tackle Gunman Behind Mass Shooting At California Church

Dr. John Cheng, a 52-year-old father of two, leapt into action when a gunman, opened fire on a church banquet. Authorities have identified the suspect as 68-year-old David Chou.

By Jill Sederstrom
Doctor Sacrificed His Life To Stop Church Gunman

Authorities are crediting a California sports medicine doctor, who heroically tackled a gunman who opened fire at a California Church Sunday afternoon, with saving countless lives.

Dr. John Cheng, a 52-year-old married father of two, sacrificed his life Sunday during a mass shooting during church banquet hosted by the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. Authorities have identified the suspected gunman as 68-year-old David Chou.

“Dr. Cheng is a hero in this incident, based on statements from the witnesses and corroborated by other means, it is known that Dr. Cheng charged the individual—the suspect—attempted to disarm him, which allowed other parishioners to then intercede, taking the suspect into custody,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said during a Monday press conference.

Authorities said Chou, a United States citizen who immigrated from China, had infiltrated a banquet at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California. The church has allowed the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church to use space at its facility since 2009.

Dr. John Cheng, a victim of the shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church,

During the banquet, which was being held to celebrate the return of a pastor from a recent mission trip in Taiwan, authorities said Chou mingled and socialized with church members before allegedly barricading the doors with chains, attempting to disable the locks with glue and then opening fire on the group of about 50 mostly elderly parishioners.   

When the gunfire erupted, Cheng quickly flew into action and charged the suspected gunman.

“He took it upon himself to charge across the room and to do everything he could to disable the assailant. He was shot, and then there was an attempt to shoot him again but the gun jammed,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said during the press conference. “He sacrificed himself so that others could live. That irony in a church is not lost on me.”

Five other victims, ranging in age from 66 to 92 years old, were wounded in the attack.

After Cheng rushed the suspect, Barnes said other parishioners got involved—including a pastor who threw a chair at the suspect—and they were able to subdue the 68-year-old by tying him up until law enforcement arrived at the scene.

Investigators uncovered several bags hidden throughout the church with magazines of additional ammo and four “Molotov cocktail-like incendiary devices,” which they believe the suspect had intended to use during the “politically-motivated hate incident,” Barnes said.

“Without the actions of Dr. Cheng, it is no doubt that there would be numerous additional victims in this crime,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the suspect—who had worked as a security guard in the Las Vegas area—had no known ties to the church or its parishioners.

It’s believed he targeted the congregation for political reasons and drove to California from his home in Las Vegas on Saturday.

“Based on preliminary information in the investigation, it is believed the suspect involved was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan,” he said, describing it as a “grievance that this individual had between himself and the Taiwanese community at large.”

He later said he believed the suspect’s “hatred of Taiwan” had manifested when he lived there in the past, possibly during his youth.

“He was not well received while living there,” he said.

Barnes said investigators believe the attack was well-thought out and meticulously planned.

Spitzer visited the large community room, where the banquet was being held, after the shooting to bear witness to the destruction.

“You could tell that havoc had been created in that space,” he said of finding a cane left behind, popcorn overturned and furniture scattered.

“I will tell you that evil was in that church yesterday, but I will tell you that that church, the congregants and obviously … Dr. Cheng, and the others who were shot, and all the other congregants, engaged in the most heroic activity one could ever imagine,” he added.

Spitzer said Chou will likely face one count of murder with the use of a gun, with the addition of a special circumstance of lying in wait, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of unlawful possession of explosives.

If the 68-year-old is found guilty of those charges, Spitzer he would be eligible for either life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. Spitzer will be tasked with determining whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the case, something he said factored into his decision to see the crime scene with his own eyes.

“I needed to see where Dr. Cheng fell. I needed to see with my own eyes the havoc, the despair the urgency, the emotion and the lives that he has forever affected and ruined,” he said. “I needed to see that for myself as the one who will decide if we pursue or seek death.”

Kristi Johnson, assistant director in charge for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said federal authorities are also investigating whether Chou could face additional federal hate crime charges in addition to the state level charges likely to be filed against him.

“Once our full review and full translation is complete, we will have more information,” she said.

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